Paektu Mountain

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Paektu Mountain
백두산 / 白頭山 (Korean)
长白山 (Chinese)
Laika ac Mt. Paekdu (7998657081).jpg
The summit caldera of Paektu Mountain, with Heaven Lake
Highest point
Elevation2,744 m (9,003 ft)[1]
Prominence2,593 m (8,507 ft)[1]
ListingCountry high point
Coordinates41°59′36.3″N 128°04′39.3″E / 41.993417°N 128.077583°E / 41.993417; 128.077583Coordinates: 41°59′36.3″N 128°04′39.3″E / 41.993417°N 128.077583°E / 41.993417; 128.077583
Paektu Mountain is located in North Korea
Paektu Mountain
Paektu Mountain
Location in North Korea
Paektu Mountain is located in China
Paektu Mountain
Paektu Mountain
Paektu Mountain (China)
Paektu Mountain is located in Jilin
Paektu Mountain
Paektu Mountain
Paektu Mountain (Jilin)
Parent rangeChangbai Mountains
Mountain typeStratovolcano
Last eruption1903[2]
Paektu Mountain
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese
Literal meaningever-white mountain
Korean name
Literal meaningwhite head mountain
Chinese Korean name
Literal meaningEver-white Mountain
Manchu name
Manchu scriptᡤᠣᠯᠮᡳᠨ ᡧᠠᠩᡤᡳᠶᠶᠠᠨ ᠠᠯᡳᠨ
RomanizationGolmin Šanggiyan Alin

Paektu Mountain (Korean백두산; Hanja白頭山; MRPaektusan), also known as Baekdu Mountain and in China as Changbai Mountain (simplified Chinese: 长白山; traditional Chinese: 長白山; Manchu: Golmin Šanggiyan Alin), is an active stratovolcano on the Chinese–North Korean border.[3] At 2,744 m (9,003 ft), it is the highest mountain of the Baekdudaegan and Changbai ranges. Koreans assign a mythical quality to the volcano and its caldera lake, considering it to be their country's spiritual home.[4] It is the highest mountain in North Korea and Northeast China.[5]

A large crater lake, called Heaven Lake, is in the caldera atop the mountain. The caldera was formed by the VEI 7 "Millennium" or "Tianchi" eruption of 946, which erupted about 100–120 km3 (24–29 cu mi) of tephra. This was one of the largest and most violent eruptions in the last 5,000 years (alongside the Minoan eruption, the Hatepe eruption of Lake Taupō in around AD 180, the 1257 eruption of Mount Samalas near Mount Rinjani and the 1815 eruption of Tambora).

The mountain plays an important mythological and cultural and nationalistic role in the societies and civil religions of both contemporary Korean states. For instance, it is mentioned in both of their national anthems and is depicted on the national emblem of North Korea. The mountain is regarded by the Manchu people as their ancestral homeland, and it was a symbol of imperial power in the Qing, the last imperial dynasty of China.


The mountain was first recorded in the Chinese Classic of Mountains and Seas under the name Bùxián Shān (Chinese: 不咸山). It is also called Shànshàn Dàlǐng (Chinese: 單單大嶺) in the Book of the Later Han. In the New Book of Tang, it was called Tàibái Shān (Chinese: 太白山).[6] The current Chinese name, Chángbái Shān (长白山; 長白山, 'ever white mountain', was first used in the Liao dynasty (916–1125) of the Khitans[7] and then the Jin dynasty (1115–1234) of the Jurchens.[8] The Liao Shi recorded that chiefs of 30 Jurchen tribes from Mount Changbai paid their tribute to the Liao in AD 985. According to the Song dynasty travelogue Songmo Jiwen, it was named as such because the mountain was "the abode of the white-robed Guanyin" and its birds and beasts were all white.[9] The modern Manchu name of the mountain, which is golmin šanggiyan alin (ᡤᠣᠯᠮᡳᠨ ᡧᠠᠩᡤᡳᠶᠠᠨ ᠠᠯᡳᠨ), also means 'ever white mountain'.

The modern Korean name of the mountain, Paektusan or Baekdusan (백두산/白頭山), was first recorded in the 13th-century historical record Goryeosa. It means 'white-head mountain'. In other records from the same period, the mountain was also called Taebaeksan (태백산, 太白山), which means 'great-white mountain'. An alternative Chinese name, Báitóu Shān (白头山; 白頭山), is the transliteration of Paektu Mountain.[10]

The Mongolian name is Öndör Tsagaan Aula (Өндөр Цагаан Уула), which means 'lofty white mountain'. In English, various authors have used nonstandard transliterations.[11]

Geography and geology[edit]

Relief map

Mount Paektu is a stratovolcano whose cone is truncated by a large caldera, about 5 km (3.1 mi) wide and 850 meters (2,790 ft) deep, partially filled by the waters of Heaven Lake.[2] The lake has a circumference of 12 to 14 kilometers (7.5 to 8.7 mi), with an average depth of 213 meters (699 ft) and maximum depth of 384 meters (1,260 ft). From mid-October to mid-June, the lake is typically covered with ice. In 2011, experts in North and South Korea met to discuss the potential for a significant eruption in the near future,[12] as the volcano explodes to life every 100 years or so, the last time in 1903.[13]

The geological forces forming Mount Paektu remain a mystery. Two leading theories are first a hot spot formation and second an uncharted portion of the Pacific Plate sinking beneath Mount Paektu.[14]

The central section of the mountain rises about 3 mm (0.12 in) per year due to rising levels of magma below the central part of the mountain. Sixteen peaks exceeding 2,500 m (8,200 ft) line the caldera rim surrounding Heaven Lake. The highest peak, called Janggun Peak, is covered in snow about eight months of the year. The slope is relatively gentle until about 1,800 m (5,910 ft).

Water flows north out of the lake, and near the outlet there is a 70-meter (230 ft) waterfall. The mountain is the source of the Songhua, Tumen and Yalu rivers. The Tumen and the Yalu form the northern border between North Korea and Russia and China.


The weather on the mountain can be very erratic, sometimes severe. The annual average temperature at the peak is −4.9 °C (23.2 °F). During summer, temperatures of about 18 °C (64 °F) or higher can be reached, and during winter temperatures can drop to −48 °C (−54 °F). The lowest record temperature was −51 °C (−60 °F) on 2 January 1997. The average temperature is about −24 °C (−11 °F) in January, and 10 °C (50 °F) in July, remaining below freezing for eight months of the year. The average wind speed is 42 km/h (26 mph), peaking at 63 km/h (39 mph). The relative humidity averages 74%.[citation needed]

Geological history[edit]

Millennium eruption[edit]

The mountain's caldera was created in 946 by the colossal (VEI 7)[15] "Millennium" or "Tianchi" eruption, one of the most violent eruptions in the last 5,000 years, comparable to the 180 AD eruption of Lake Taupō and the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora.[16] The eruption, whose tephra has been found in the southern part of Hokkaidō, Japan, and as far away as Greenland,[17] destroyed much of the volcano's summit, leaving a caldera that today is filled by Heaven Lake.

According to the Book of Koryo History, "thunders from the heaven drum"[This quote needs a citation] (likely the explosions from the Millennium eruption) were heard in the city of Kaesong, and then again in the capital of ancient Korea about 450 km (280 mi) south of the volcano, which terrified the emperor so much that convicts were pardoned and set free.[citation needed] According to the book of Heungboksa Temple History, on 3 November of the same year, in the city of Nara (Japan), about 1,100 km (680 mi) southeast from the mountain, an event of "white ash rain" was recorded. Three months later, on 7 February 947, "drum thunders" were heard in the city of Kyoto (Japan), about 1,000 km (620 mi) southeast of Paektu.[16]

Tianwenfeng eruption[edit]

The age of the Tianwenfeng eruption is not clear, but the carbonized wood in Heifengkou's lag breccia has been dated at around 4105 ± 90 BP. This eruption formed large areas covered in yellow pumice and ignimbrite[18] and released about 23.14 million tonnes (25.51 million short tons) of SO2 into the stratosphere.[19] The bulk volume of the ejecta is at least 100 km3, making the Tianwenfeng eruption also of VEI 7. The Tianwenfeng eruption has also been recorded in Manchurian myths. Manchus described the mountain as "Fire Dragon", "Fire Demon" or "Heavenly Fire".[20]

Recent events[edit]

Mount Paektu, April 2003

After these major eruptions, Mount Paektu had at least three smaller eruptions, which occurred in 1668, 1702, and 1903, likely forming the Baguamiao ignimbrite, the Wuhaojie fine pumice, and the Liuhaojie tuff ring.[21]

In 2011, the Government of North Korea invited volcanologists James Hammond of Imperial College London and Clive Oppenheimer of the University of Cambridge, to study the mountain for recent volcanic activity. Their project was continuing in 2014 and expected to last for another "two or three years".[22][23] American volcanologist Kayla Iacovino also participated, becoming one of the first women scientists to do research in North Korea.[24][25]

Flora and fauna[edit]

Painting from the Manchu Veritable Records with the names of Mount Paektu in Manchu, Chinese and Mongolian

There are five known species of plants in the lake on the peak, and some 168 have been counted along its shores. The forest on the Chinese side is ancient and almost unaltered by humans. Birch predominates near the tree line, and pine lower down, mixed with other species. There has been extensive deforestation on the lower slopes on the North Korean side of the mountain.[citation needed]

The area is a known habitat for Siberian tigers, bears, wolves, and wild boars.[26] The Ussuri dholes may have been extirpated from the area. Deer in the mountain forests, which cover the mountain up to about 2,000 meters (6,600 ft), are of the Paekdusan roe deer kind. Many wild birds such as black grouse, owls, and woodpecker are known to inhabit the area. The mountain has been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it supports a population of scaly-sided mergansers.[27]


The mountain has been worshipped by the surrounding peoples throughout history. Both the Koreans and Manchus consider it sacred, especially the Heaven Lake in its crater.[28]


Mount Paektu on the national emblem of North Korea.
A painting of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il standing at the peak of Mount Paektu

The mountain has been considered sacred by Koreans throughout history. According to Korean mythology, it was the birthplace of Dangun, the founder of Gojoseon (2333–108 BC), whose parents were said to be Hwanung, the Son of Heaven, and Ungnyeo, a bear who had been transformed into a woman.[29] The Goryeo and Joseon dynasties also worshiped the mountain.[30][31]

The Goryeo dynasty (935–1392) first called the mountain Paektu,[32] recording that the Jurchens across the Yalu River were made to live outside of Mount Paektu. The Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) recorded volcanic eruptions in 1597, 1668, and 1702. In the 15th century, King Sejong strengthened the fortification along the Tumen and Yalu rivers, making the mountain a natural border with the northern peoples.[33] Some Koreans claim that the entire region near Mount Paektu and the Tumen River belongs to Korea and parts of it were illegally given away by Japanese colonialists to China through the Gando Convention.[citation needed]

Mount Paektu is mentioned in the national anthems of both North and South Korea and in the Korean folk song "Arirang".

Dense forest around the mountain provided bases for Korean armed resistance against the Japanese occupation, and later communist guerrillas during the Korean War. Kim Il-sung organized his resistance against the Japanese forces there, and North Korea claims that Kim Jong-il was born there,[34] although records outside of North Korea suggest that he was actually born in the Soviet Union.[35][36]

The peak has been featured on the state emblem of North Korea since 1993, as defined in Article 169 of the Constitution, which describes Mt. Paektu as "the sacred mountain of the revolution".[37] The mountain is often referred to in slogans such as: "Let us accomplish the Korean revolution in the revolutionary spirit of Paektu, the spirit of the blizzards of Paektu!"[38] North Korean media also celebrates natural phenomena witnessed at the mountain as portentous,[39] and Korean Central Television's weather reports list Paektu behind only Pyongyang.[40] The mountain's name is used for various products, such as the Paektusan rocket, the Paektusan computer, and the Mt Paektu handgun.[41][42][43]


Mount Changbai was regarded as the most sacred mountain in the shamanist religion of the Manchus, and their ancestors Sushen and Jurchens.[44] The Jin dynasty bestowed the title "the King Who Makes the Nation Prosperous and Answers with Miracles" (Chinese: 興國靈應王) on the mountain in 1172 and it was entitled "the Emperor Who Cleared the Sky with Tremendous Sagehood" (Chinese: 開天宏聖帝) in 1193. A temple for the mountain god was constructed on the northern side.[9]

The Manchu clan Aisin Gioro, which founded the Qing dynasty of China, claimed their progenitor Bukūri Yongšon was conceived near Paektu Mountain. In 1682, 1698, 1733, 1754 and 1805, Qing emperors visited Jilin and paid homage to the mountain. The rites at Mount Changbai were heavily influenced by the ancient Feng Shan ceremonies, in which Chinese emperors offered sacrifices to heaven and earth at Mount Tai. The Kangxi Emperor claimed that Mount Tai and Changbai belong to the same mountain range, which runs from northeast to southwest but is partially submerged under the sea before reaching Shandong. The geography and feng shui of Mount Changbai thus provided legitimacy to the Aisin Gioro clan's rule over China.[44]

Baishan Heishui, "white mountain and black river", referring to Mount Changbai and the Heilongjiang, has been a traditional name for Northeast China since the Jin dynasty.[45]

Disputes and agreements[edit]


Map showing the Chinese-North Korean border region around Paektu Mountain

According to Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, the Yalu and Tumen Rivers were set as the borders in the era of the founder of Joseon Dynasty, Taejo of Joseon (1335–1408).[46] Because of the continuous entry of Korean people into Gando, a region in Manchuria that lay north of the Tumen, Manchu and Korean officials surveyed the area and negotiated a border agreement in 1712. To mark the agreement, they built a monument describing the boundary at a watershed, near the south of the crater lake at the mountain peak. The interpretation of the inscription caused a territorial dispute from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, and is still disputed by academics today. The 1909 Gando Convention between China and Japan, when Korea was under Japanese rule, recognized the area north and east as Chinese territory.


In 1962, China and North Korea negotiated a border treaty to resolve their undemarcated land border. China received 40% of the crater lake and North Korea kept the remaining land,[47] holding approximately 54.5% of the territory.[48] Neither of this treaty is recognized by the governments of the Republic of China on Taiwan and the Republic of Korea.

Some South Korean groups argue that recent activities conducted on the Chinese side of the border, such as economic development, cultural festivals, infrastructure development, promotion of the tourism industry, attempts at registration as a World Heritage Site, and bids for a Winter Olympic Games, are an attempt to claim the mountain as Chinese territory.[49][50] These groups object to China's use of the name Mount Changbai.[8] Some groups also regard the entire mountain as Korean territory that was given away by North Korea in the Korean War.[50]

During the 2007 Asian Winter Games, which were held in Changchun, China, a group of South Korean athletes held up signs during the award ceremony which stated "Mount Paektu is our territory". Chinese sports officials delivered a letter of protest on the grounds that political activities violated the spirit of the Olympics and were banned in the charter of the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Council of Asia. Officials from the South Korean athletic team apologized to China.[51][52][53]

South Korea claims the caldera lake and the inside part of the ridge.[54]


In addition to domestic tourists, most international visitors, including many South Koreans, climb the mountain from the Chinese side, though it is also a popular tourist destination for visitors to North Korea. The Chinese tourism area is classified as a AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration.[55]

There are a number of monuments on the North Korean side of the mountain. Paektu Spa is a natural spring and is used for bottled water. Pegae Hill is a camp site of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army [ko] (Korean: 조선인민혁명군) allegedly led by Kim Il-sung during their struggle against Japanese colonial rule. Secret camps are also now open to the public. There are several waterfalls, including the Hyongje Falls which splits into two about a third of the way from the top.[citation needed] In 1992, on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Kim Il-sung, a gigantic sign consisting of metal letters reading "Holy mountain of the revolution" was erected on the side of the mountain. North Koreans claim that there are 216 steps leading to the top of the mountain, symbolizing Kim Jong-il's 16 February birth date, but in reality there are more.[56] On the North Korean side of the mountain, there is a funicular system with two cars.[57] This was updated with new funicular cars built by the Kim Chong-t'ae Electric Locomotive Works, with the new cars successfully running on the funicular from October 30.[58][59]

See also[edit]


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  6. ^ Second Canonical Book of the Tang Dynasty. 新唐書.北狄渤海傳》:"契丹盡忠殺營州都督趙翽反,有舍利乞乞仲象者,與靺鞨酋乞四比羽及高麗餘種東走,度遼水,保太白山之東北,阻奧婁河,樹壁自固。" (English translation: Khitan general Li Jinzhong killed Zhao Hui, the commanding officer of Yin Zhou. Officer Dae Jung-sang, with Mohe chieftain Qisi Piyu and Goguryeo remnants, escaped to the east, crossed Liao River, guarded the northeast part of the Grand Old White Mountain, blocked Oulou River, built walls to protect themselves.)
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  8. ^ a b "Canonical History Records of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty". 金史.卷第三十五》:"長白山在興王之地,禮合尊崇,議封爵,建廟宇。""厥惟長白,載我金德,仰止其高,實惟我舊邦之鎮。" (English translation: "Changbai Mountain is in old Jurchen land, highly respectful, suitable for building temples. Only the Changbai Mountain can carry Jin Dynasty's spirit; It is so high; It is a part of our old land.")
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  46. ^ (in Korean and Chinese) 朝鮮王朝実録太祖8卷4年(1395年)12月14日 "以鴨綠江爲界。""以豆滿江爲界。"
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